Monday, December 25, 2006

Season's Bleatings

Having endured the occasional Peggy Noonan column, I am secure in the assumption that the Wall Street Journal does not pester their writers over such trifles as probity and accuracy in their puling nonsense. I suspect, as Edroso points out, that there are simply only so many remaining broken windows and turnstile jumpers on the culture cop's beat. People have decided that maybe they don't need all the hectoring Footloose laws after all, and that they are even enjoying the sex every now and again, much to the disappointment of the moralizing scolds.

Still, one might at least figure that, talking dolphin tales aside, some grounding in reality is required. Or not.

The best thing about going to church this Christmas is that for at least an hour you won't have to think about religion.

By religion I of course don't mean the spiritual respite one may feel in a house of worship. I mean "religion"--the controversy, the battleground, the fighting word, the bomb-maker's inspiration and the lawsuit. Religion in the modern age.

Let's start with those nice Episcopalians. Last week seven Episcopal parishes in northern Virginia, one of which claims George Washington as a former parishioner, voted to separate from the U.S. Episcopal Church. It was Monday's lead story in the Washington Post. The seven parishes say they've lost patience with the mother church on matters such as homosexuality and the ordination of women. They plan to affiliate with a more traditional Episcopal diocese, in Nigeria.

In September, Pope Benedict elevated the politics of Islam and jihad, or holy war. Religion will be at issue in 2008's presidential politics. Mitt Romney's candidacy, one reads, must overcome the belief among Southern evangelicals that Mormonism isn't a religion. Sen. Sam Brownback, a hero to evangelicals, would build his campaign around the moral status of the culture. Meanwhile, the evangelicals find themselves beset by radical atheism.

It would be helpful if Henninger might bother to unpack some small part of all this, but of course he won't, because he -- and they -- have far too much invested at this point. His first point does not even pass muster as a qualified polemic -- it's just asinine. It requires forgetting, though Henninger himself reminds in the subsequent paragraphs, that the very problem is the sorry conflation of religion and politics. Of course, it has always been thus, since Levantine tribesmen were formalizing the specific by-laws for picking nits off one another's backsides. But we are at least supposed to maintain the pretense here of church and state separation, and that facade has crumbled steadily in the face of winger onslaughts.

Could that be the cause for "radical atheist" blowback? Henninger's unsure, but he's not going to pass judgment on the bizarrely ironic notion of self-righteous Episcopalians, in a notoriously neo-confederate part of the country, overtly aligning themselves with a crazy Nigerian who seriously believes that homosexuals should be thrown in jail.

As for Romney, the poor bastard's going to contort himself inextricably by next summer. All his genuflecting to the extra-chromosomers won't mean a damned thing if there aren't any deeds to back up his words. Mitt is simply too willing to leave folks alone for the wingers' liking, so unless he plans on protesting an abortion clinic and/or sponsoring gay marriage legislation (erm, too late for that last, one supposes), perhaps he can start burnishing his quals for a Giuliani cabinet post (forgetting, of course, the latter's impending clash with the Brownback wing as well). The point is that there's just no pleasing these people, but since Henninger is those people, he's just okey-doke with that. Radical atheists, not so much. Here's one now!

When I asked a young clerk at Borders on lower Broadway if they had Richard Dawkins's best-selling atheist manifesto, "The God Delusion," he replied, "Oh, we'd better: It's a fantastic book!" He swept the quarter-mile across the store to make sure I got it. "Enjoy!" he said sounding, well, triumphal. I laid it against my new copy of "The Catechism of the Catholic Church," felt no electrical current and departed.
For the purpose of a Christmas-weekend meditation on religion's place in the nation's life, the atheist counteroffensive is the most interesting of these concurrent rifts.

The book jacket for "The God Delusion" carries encomiums for Mr. Dawkins's attempt to argue religion out of existence from several men who are scientists or writers on science--Craig Venter (genomics), Steven Pinker (cognitive science) and Desmond Morris (zoology). Secular science has always grumbled about data-deprived religionists, but why have the fallen angels mounted another assault on Heaven? What seems to have made them pop is the movement in some U.S. towns to challenge or replace the teaching of Darwinist evolution. This has been taken by some scientists as a clear and present danger to the idea and practice of science itself.

Um, yes, asshole. What part of teaching thinly-disguised creationist myths in science classes are you having trouble comprehending? Someone had to finally take a stand, because these bozos keep infesting the public school system and bamboozling impressionable kids that one has to do with the other. You want to teach this stuff, start a comparative religion course. Otherwise, bugger off already.

I imagine that the brighter of these planarians might start figuring the problem out when we finally slip behind, say, Tanzania on the science aptitude ranking. As it is, we've only been behind a couple dozen countries for a decade or so. Is it directly because of the "Discovery" "Institute" goofballs and their bankrolled scams? Not completely, but it sure ain't helping.

This rift is unfortunate, because it upsets a useful institutional and historic balance in American life. Religion has been the supplier of virtue necessary to American exceptionalism. The suggestion here is not of an arid moral arrogance (the "absolutism" so feared by critics) but of reaping material and social benefits from shared virtues that have sustained the American enterprise--from its origins 'til now.

Virtues can vary by religion, but in the U.S. religiously originated virtue by and large organizes behavior toward civic good. Critics such as Richard Dawkins argue that utilitarian virtue can occur without religion. In "The God Delusion," Mr. Dawkins offers his own "new" Ten Commandments, such as "Do not discriminate or oppress" and "Value the future on a timescale longer than your own."

The socially formative virtues I have in mind, most of them expressible in a word and widely understood as a matter of tradition, would include: fortitude, prudence, temperance, justice, charity, hope, integrity, loyalty, honor, filial respect, mercy, diligence, generosity and forbearance. There are others. No one possesses them all, but all should possess some. By now the people of the West are agreed that virtue should allow society to progress. Religion's current critics, of course, say its politics are impeding scientific and medical progress, as with stem cells.

If Henninger has a problem with the current tenor of the debate, he would do better to attend to the source, which is the people who cannot seem to leave church business in the church. This is a battle they have pitched, quite deliberately and overtly. They apparently thought that they would be the only ones to get their backs up for their principles; they are now finding out the hard way that not only is that not true, but that many of their own have had enough of this Gladys Kravitz bullshit.

Maybe they are starting to figure out on their own, as adult participants in a free society, that not only are they responsible for their actions and beliefs, but that they are also allowed to choose those things for themselves. They do not need the nannying jerkoffs and their crappy-pizza magnate backers to make those decisions for them and their families. They do not need some closet case preacher to help them find their way. Whether they decide to believe or disbelieve, the decision is theirs to make.

And because organized religion, politically and otherwise, has always been about controlling the lives of others, that is what scares the shit out of them the most -- that people might discover enough common sense on their own to not need the arrogant moral hypocrites at all. That would be something; Henninger coming to his senses would be something else.

[Update 12/28 10:00 AM PST: Seems we have attracted the attention of traditional Anglicans, as the "unhinged rant of the week". I am just hoping to squeak through the playoffs, and hope that my late-season entry keeps memories fresh enough to possibly snag the coveted unhinged rant of the year award. Not sure what the grand prize is, but I'm sure it will be to my rather exacting atheist hedonistic sybarite standards.

More seriously, while I always enjoy the extra traffic, I admit to being a little confounded as to why, if I am so out of my tree in asserting that people and not religious politicians (and make no mistake, people like Peter Akinola and James Dobson and Tom Monaghan are precisely that) should take responsibility for sorting out their own lives, there is no refutation, merely a short, barely contextual excerpt blandly prefaced. Look, whenever politico-religious mouthpieces such as Daniel Henninger disingenuously ignore the origins of the putative atheist blowback, it's almost always deliberate; there's generally a pretty clear agenda at work, no matter how passive-aggressively they try to conceal it. I understand why politically-motivated believers can't leave other people alone; I have no idea why actual people of faith -- any faith -- would have anything to do with such creeps.

The incontestible, irrefutable fact is that Akinola has quite literally endeavored to criminalize homosexuality. This is nothing short of pathological, and I am not even going to pretend to put up with the sheer gall on the part of people who bitch about being persecuted, even as they continue to persecute. Now, if that's "unhinged", then so be it.]


john lenin said...

Religion has been the supplier of virtue necessary to American exceptionalism.

I always treasure these unwittingly revealing comments. This is the kind of dumbfounded dipshit that earnestly asks, "Why do they hate us? Why aren't they throwing flowers at our feet?"

Unfortunately, I can't truly enjoy this like I normally could, being that I'm still grinding my teeth over Xmas conversations with wingnut relatives who honestly seem to take Bill O'Fuckstick's paranoid ravings as objective truth, and feel that there is some equivalent menace from anti-religious people who insist on abolishing Christianity comparable to, say, the Schiavo circus and lunatics like Randall Terry bending the ears of the most powerful politicians in the country. Seriously.

I tried to assure them that, as a charter member of the radical atheist crowd, I would know of any imminent purges of believers, massive boosting of our membership ranks, political takeovers, sporting events involving hungry lions or Bible-confiscation raids on unsuspecting pious folk, and that there were no such things on the horizon, but it didn't matter. Once again, we see the he said/she said template being used, where criticism of one individual or group isn't allowed without postulating an equivalent opposite, which may or may not actually exist outside of someone's demented fantasies.

Heywood J. said...

Yeah, I'm thinking these people really need to re-read Matthew 7, the entire chapter. Judge not lest ye be judged; plucking the beam out of thine own eye; by their fruits ye shall know them; that sort of thing.

But then, since these people are actually politicians, and not men of Christ, I suppose it would be like trying to teach a pig to sing -- it merely wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Merseymike said...

Amusing to think that a site which is dedicated entirely to the production of nasty, gay-hating, unhinged rants in the name of outdated theology, gives you such an award,

You should be proud!

Tony F said...

This Blog needs serious editing. It's full of waffle and poorly used grammar. Unless you can state your case in less than one paragraph, then you've lost my interest completely. Oh, and although I haven't seen Matthew 7 yet, I can highly recommend Oceans 11 and 12.

Heywood J. said...

Tony F:

Suck my cock. Is that brief and waffle-free enough for ya?